Weekly Watchlist #9 (28th Oct – 3rd Nov)

Much more stuff this week!

Daybreak (Netflix)

This has really captivated me – very easy to dismiss as derivative (because, well, it absolutely is), but with just enough flourish to occasionally feel very inspired. Oddly, it’s not the most confident show – for every step it takes towards a new idea, it quickly hurries two steps back to comforting archetypes – but when it gets things right it absolutely soars. I’d struggle to recommend it wholeheartedly, but at the same time it’s clearly not a bad show: just one I wish was a little more willing to trust its best instincts.

Defending the Guilty (BBC Two)

It never quite managed to solve the flaw I highlighted a while ago – the lack of development for Will’s girlfriend – which becomes harder to ignore as the series concluded. At the same time, though, I still really enjoyed this: it’s funny and it’s moving, with a brilliant cast and a killer soundtrack. The ending invites a second series I’m not sure is wholly needed – but I really can’t wait for more.

House of Games (BBC Two)

I normally tend not to include all the quiz shows I watch in these listings, but I just wanted to note for posterity that I got an answer about Virginia Woolf very quickly this week, and I was very proud of myself.

That’s all.

In the Long Run (Sky One)

It’s easy to forget just how good a comic talent Idris Elba is, given his more high-profile outings tend towards the dramatic – even then, this loosely-autobiographical piece feels like it’s flown especially under the radar, not really making a huge impact on people’s impressions of Elba. (I’d bet more people know about his DJ work than this show. Actually, I’d bet more people would know him from Bond rumours than this show, and that’s probably never going to happen.)

That’s a shame – In the Long Run is a charming, funny little show, the sort of thing that I could very easily see being just as loved as Derry Girls or Stath Lets Flats if it too had found a home at Channel 4.

Motherland (BBC Two)

Admittedly, “I really can’t wait for more” is also exactly how I felt about Motherland’s first series; this year’s effort is much more easily written off. I could never quite put my finger on what changed – and maybe if I went back and rewatched the first series, I’d be disappointed by that as well. Either way, it’s been a disappointing year

Riverdale (Netflix)

Halloween is absolutely the best time of year for Riverdale. Wait a few months and I’ll say the same about Christmas, though – this is a show that really thrives on excess and exaggeration, so the heightened nature of any holiday always makes for an especially fun instalment of Riverdale nonsense.

Superstore & The Good Place (NBC, Netflix)

Doing these ones together, because I remain of basically the same mind about each – Superstore is just about recovering from a rough start, while The Good Place continues to tread water, increasingly prompting me to realise again (as is the case with every new season of The Good Place) that I just don’t love it. Both these shows might end up bumped from the weekly watchlist – I’ll still keep on top of them, of course, but I’m definitely not going to have something new to say about them each week.

Favourite show of October: I suspect ‘favourite’ is probably the wrong word here – I’d want to very heavily caveat it in this instance – but Daybreak is undeniably the show that’s made the most impression on me, and I suspect the one I’ll be thinking about longest.

Best new show of October: Again, I think it has to be Daybreak.

Most looking forward to in November: Lot of possibilities here – I have high hopes for His Dark Materials, some measured interest in a few of the Apple+ shows, and I haven’t quite got around to Watchmen yet so we’ll call that a November show – but it’s hard not to choose The End of the F***ing World series 2. Absolutely loved the first series, and really curious to see how Jessica Barden fills the role of the lead.

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Weekly Watchlist #8 (21st Oct – 27th Oct)

I watched very little this week. But I was doing real work! So that’s got to count for something, I hope.

Fleabag (BBC Three)

Just the one episode, from the first series, because I was channel hopping, and it was on. Hugh Dennis gives such a subtle, moving performance in this; it’s surely the best work of his career, certainly not something you’d think he was capable of from Mock the Week. But the closing moments of that fourth episode, the one I watched this week? He’s sublime.

Riverdale (Netflix)

Riverdale is very easy to criticise – and, in fairness, deserves a lot of the criticism it gets – but I will always maintain that it’s actually a much better show than its reputation suggests. Structurally, it’s a marvel; I’m convinced that Riverdale is one of the most attentively, acutely paced programs on television at the moment. I really believe that!

Superstore (NBC)

I can’t help but feel like Superstore’s solution to keep Matteo in the store after last year’s ICE cliffhanger is a bit contrived – although, equally, I wouldn’t have wanted them to lose Nico Santos, whose always been one of the best parts of the show. I’m interested to see what Matteo’s plotline will look like across the rest of the year; so far it hasn’t quite lived up to the weight of expectation created at the end of season 4, but hopefully that’ll change going forward.

The Circle (Channel 4)

I still haven’t actually caught up on this – in fact, I got spoilers for who won when I was putting together the last weekly watchlist. (Whoops.) Again, though, I’m inclined to stick with it. I sort of wish it would get a bit more popular, so there would be more writing on it – I’m convinced that someone better versed in the history of reality television would have quite an interesting take on it.

The Good Place (Netflix)

After I complained last week about the memory wipes, this episode opened with a quick joke about restoring Jason’s memories. That, I think, is probably the best I’m ever gonna get – and I don’t think I’ll ever really be entirely pleased with that.

But, yes, quite a few things missing this week. Keep managing to miss Watchmen, which is a nuisance, because I’m really curious about that. And I missed The Accident, too; I mostly enjoyed Kiri, so I was keen to check that out, but a lot of the reviews have been less than encouraging.

Tell you what, though, I’m increasingly becoming more and more conscious of just how much television there is. Which is a bit of an obvious thing to say, but I was quite struck by the fact that this week, a friend of mine started watching and in turn heavily recommending Daybreak – a new Netflix show that debuted this week, and I hadn’t even heard of until he mentioned it. There’s a lot going on there, of course, and part of that is down to Netflix’s advertising – but equally, this isn’t a small show! It’s got Matthew Broderick in it, it’s based on what are apparently relatively popular comic books!

But we’re at the point where there’s so much television that even I, someone who ostensibly watches television for a living, hadn’t heard of this show. Which is an odd thing to confront, I suppose.

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Weekly Watchlist #7 (14th Oct – 20th Oct)

weekly watchlist 7 the good place tahani jameela jamil rebecca front thick of it succession kendall headphones

Haven’t picked up anything new yet this week. Been a while. Recommendations always appreciated!

Motherland (BBC Two)

An improvement this week, if only a little one, because last week’s new character was sidelined a bit. (It is… a shame that this character is played by the only WOC in the cast. The actress is great, but the character is really, really misconceived. Do intentionally irritating side-characters ever work?) Even then, anyway, the episode was a bit of a disappointment. Ah well.

Riverdale (The CW, Netflix)

It’s absolutely ridiculous, but that’s why I love it. Frankly I’d be disappointed if it ever tried to be grounded again – I watch this for nonsense like Veronica making reporters watch her sing and dance before giving a press conference, or Jughead having a classmate called ‘Bret Weston Wallis’. It is nonsense! And, therefore, often the highlight of my week.

Succession (HBO, Sky Atlantic)

Undoubtedly, it’s going to make my top ten for 2019 – how could it not? – but, as I’ve noted a few times over the past few weeks, I think it’s harmed by the fact it never quite followed up on the ending of episode 5 as much as it could have. Or, I suppose, maybe it’s more accurate to say ‘as much as I would’ve liked’. Given how important the relationship between Shiv and Kendall was to this episode, though, it definitely feels as though the ball was dropped, at least a little bit.

Still! That ending. Can’t wait for next year.

Superstore (NBC)

It’s still a little frustrating, and still feels like a weak cover of earlier years, but it’s starting to find the groove again. Thankfully!

The Good Place (NBC, Netflix)

So, here’s the other thing that bothers me about The Good Place: the mind-wipes. It’s never quite sat with me – especially in a show that purports to be a character-driven show – how easily and how willingly The Good Place quite literally resets its characters. There’s only ever been a partial restoration of memories once, so it’s not like these memories are going to be restored – I don’t understand how losing those memories isn’t essentially like a death?

That feels like a hugely important thing for a show that’s meant to be about its characters to grapple with – certainly I had a bit of trouble caring about any of them again at the start of series 2, as it became clear that all the development they underwent the year before was being undone – but especially so for a show that’s so heavily concerned with philosophy. How is that not something they’d get into – all these questions about selfhood and identity and what constitutes the fundamental essence of a person? It’s a strange device to use in such a throwaway fashion, and I’m increasingly realising I’ll never quite get a satisfactory answer on that.

The Thick of It (BBC Two, Netflix)

Very nearly caught up on this, just coming to the end of the third season. Really like Rebecca Front as Nicola Murray, quite a breath of fresh air for the show. Curious to see how they handle the coalition years in the next series too.

Quite a few things I’ve missed this week – fallen behind on Defending the Guilty, which is a bit of a shame. I’ll have to get back on top of that soon.

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Weekly Watchlist #6 (7th Oct – 13th Oct)

Still trying to work out a format for this that actually works, given that I’m not sure I have a lot worth saying about all the things I’m watching. Getting there, though.

House of Games (BBC Two)

I really, really like quiz shows, and this is fun enough and slightly offbeat enough to be worth tuning into regularly.

Motherland (BBC Two)

Hugely disappointed by this, I’ve got to admit – this, I think, made my best of 2017 list, so I was really looking forward to its return. Which was hugely underwhelming in the end! The issue I think was because so much of this episode was dedicated to a new, fairly one-note character, the entire episode structured around one fairly limited joke (“look, the mothers have to take care of this other mother, who is acting like a teenager”). Bit of a shame, that.

Riverdale (The CW, Netflix)

Genuinely moving, in a way I didn’t think of Riverdale ever could be.

Succession (HBO, Sky Atlantic)

I’ll miss this a lot when it ends for the year – admittedly I do think it’s faltered ever so slightly since those near-perfect opening episodes, but frankly Succession at 80% is better than a lot of shows at 100%.

Superstore (NBC)

Something of an improvement this week, but mainly I was just trying to work out where I recognised the actress playing Colleen from. (The answer, I’m fairly sure, is SNL. Or more likely Veep, since I don’t even really watch SNL.)

The Chase (ITV)

I watch this every day, more or less – even on the weekends, when it’s not actually on properly, I’ll tend to watch a syndicated repeat. I would hate to know how many hours of my life I’ve spent watching The Chase, to be honest. And how little I’ve actually learned from it! But I’m definitely getting better at it. Eventually, I will go on The Chase, I will take the higher offer, be caught within two questions, and never watch it again.

Which would be one way to break a habit, I suppose.

The Circle (Channel 4)

Still gradually working my way through The Circle, albeit fairly behind the actual broadcast schedule – six episodes a week is frankly too much of anything. It remains unexpectedly compelling, though; it’s the first reality show of its ilk that I’ve been genuinely into enough to actually want to watch six episodes of a week. (Or, well, try to anyway.)

The Good Place (NBC, Netflix)

This episode wound me up a bit, admittedly. I’ve always gone back and forth on Tahani, whether I find her charming or irritating; I’m increasingly starting to think, though, that while Tahani is still this cartoonishly bourgeoisie character, The Good Place is never quite going to make “there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism” land as its central thesis. (Assuming that remains its central thesis, admittedly.)

The character needs to develop beyond the initial archetype – I’m not saying there isn’t some depth to her (well, I’m not saying that at the moment, anyway), but while The Good Place still sticks to that initial joke, I’m not sure it’ll ever quite be what it seems to want to be.

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Weekly Watchlist #5 (30th Sept – 6th Oct)

weekly watchlist 5 phoebe waller bridge saturday night live fleabag posh malcolm tucker peter capaldi superstore the thick of it

Slightly shorter one this week!

Defending the Guilty (BBC Two)

I liked it already, of course, but when they used my favourite Wolf Alice song? That’s when I loved it.

Saturday Night Live (NBC)

I’ve never quite bought into the whole “Fleabag is too posh” line of criticism – not as much as I probably should have, anyway – but the sheer level of contempt on display in that Love Island sketch made me quite uncomfortable, actually.

(The rest of it, obviously, was predictably throwaway fare. Still, Taylor Swift was pretty good.)

Succession (HBO, Sky Atlantic)

One thing I quite enjoy about Succession is all those cutting little jokes about journalism. “Here’s ten reasons why you’re never getting paid”. Yeah. Yeah.

Superstore (NBC)

An improvement over last week, definitely, although I’m still getting the feeling that something is just a little off – which is odd, really. There’s no way, surely, that the head writer moving to more of a producer-only role should have this much of an impact – it’s a way too auteuristic model of understanding a network sitcom, of all things, and anyway his replacements have been working on the show since the start. But at the same time, something definitely feels not quite right. I wonder if maybe it’s me, and simply knowing that something has changed behind the scenes is enough to make things feel different. Hmm.

The Good Place (NBC, Netflix)

One day I’ll get it. It’s still, you know, fine – although definitely hurting itself by sidelining William Jackson Harper, who’s always been one of the best bits of the show.

The Thick of It (BBC Two, Netflix)

Been watching this in my spare time, mainly because I’ve never seen it before, and I figured it was worth catching up on just so I could understand all the references people made. It’s quite fun. Probably there is lots to be written about what it tells us about politics in hindsight, to, uh, varying levels of insight, but mostly what stood out was a throwaway line about how scandalous a Tory MP doing blackface is… in the same week that Desmond Swayne was all over the news openly boasting about having done blackface in the past.

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Weekly Watchlist #4 (23rd Sept – 29th Sept)

weekly watchlist 4 fleabag live phoebe waller bridge the politician ben platt the good place kristen bell ted danson netflix

And another one. Still working out exactly what I want these to look like, but I think they’re starting to take shape a bit better.

Defending the Guilty (BBC Two)

Again, I’m really enjoying this, particularly as it began to fill in the rest of the cast a little more this week. I think the main thing it needs to do, and do quite quickly, is make more of an effort to characterise the lead character’s girlfriend – at the moment she’s not much more than a cipher, which would be a flaw even if a lot of the drama didn’t pivot around Will Sharpe’s character’s relationships.

Fleabag Live! (National Theatre Live)

I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so conscious of how important Sian Clifford is to Fleabag until she wasn’t in it. That was my primary takeaway, anyway, and what I kept thinking throughout this not-actually-live-but-repeat-recording-of-the-live-version showing of Fleabag that I went to see this week. (The same is sort of true of Hugh Dennis too, actually, although to a much lesser extent.)

What I was also trying to work out, though, was Fleabag series 2 – I am, I think, one of the few people for which that didn’t entirely click (although I’m of the mind that I must’ve surely just missed something). It struck me that the ending of Fleabag series 2 was an almost complete refutation of the ending of series 1 – I’ll go into this properly someday I’m sure – so I was interested to see if, maybe, that was the DNA of the spikier stage show resurfacing. Not so, though; the way Fleabag’s first series adapts the stage show is obvious, and the second series remains a mystery to me.

Succession (HBO, Sky Atlantic)

If all was right in the world, Jeremy Strong would get lots and lots of awards for this. He’s sublime.

Superstore (NBC)

Superstore is an all-time favourite of mine – the cliffhanger that closed season 4 has already earned it a place on the best of 2019 list, no question. It was the sort of moment that felt like it was breaking genuinely new ground for a network sitcom, positioning Superstore as a vital, urgent piece of television, the sort of thing that genuinely earns a place in television history.

The fifth series opener threw me a little, though – I’m not sure if it was behind the scenes changes, or maybe it’s just not quite possible to live up to the weight of expectation generated by a big moment like that (I’m quite consciously trying to avoid revealing it here), but I was a tad disappointed by this. Looking forward to next week anyway, though.

The Circle (Channel 4)

This is surprisingly engrossing – it’s mostly a load of nonsense, as tends to be the case with reality TV, but there’s something about the Big Brother crossed with Catfish premise that’s becoming increasingly difficult to look away from, even before they threw Richard Madeley pretending to be a 27 year old woman into the mix.

The Good Place (Netflix)

More than anything else on television at the moment, The Good Place makes me feel slightly out of step with everyone else. I just don’t like it that much! It’s… fine. It’s nice, it’s often sweet, and sometimes I quite enjoy it. It feels friendly, and that’s neat. But by the same stroke, it’s often unbearably twee, deeply, overly saccharine, and at times it’s actually quite irritating. It’s not bad, or not bad enough to be worth some attempt at a takedown – but I do feel so, so out of step with the general critical consensus on this one, since everyone’s hailing it as the most revolutionary comedy since, well, the genre was invented it sometimes feels like.

It is very conceptually striking at times, and it’s often quite inventive – what I do find sort of notable actually is that the stretch I’ve enjoyed the most, series 3, seems to be the consensus weakest season – but for the most part I struggle to click with it. I think I just don’t find it particularly funny (I’ve always enjoyed it more when I stopped expecting it to be funny, I think), and I’m always slightly baffled when some screencap goes viral on twitter.

“Stonehenge was a sex thing”, says a CGI elephant. I mean, sure, okay.

The Politician (Netflix)

This is peak Ryan Murphy, and – I say this with genuine admiration – quite neatly filled a Riverdale-shaped hole in my heart.

Favourite show of September: Has to be Succession, really.

Best new show of September: Going to go with Defending the Guilty, actually, which I’ve been quietly impressed by.

Most looking forward to in October: Oh, it could only be Riverdale, my one true love, even now.

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My Top 10 TV Shows of 2018

I was trying to work out, before I wrote this post, how many television shows I’d actually watched all year. I am not completely sure the final tally was correct – my memory is awful, and it’s been a long year with a lot of television – but I think it came out to around 60 or so. (That’s mostly new shows, or new content at least, I didn’t include the programmes I rewatched. No idea how many it’d be then.)

Hoping to watch about 75 new programmes across 2019. That feels broadly achievable, I think – even if it’s still only going to be a fraction of the amount of actual television that’s put out. There’s so much of it! It’s like I’m drowning. In a good way, though. Or at least as good a way as drowning could feel, I suppose.

Anyway. Before we get into the 2018 list, here’s a quick recap of my 2017 list, since I never wrote a blog post about it in the end:

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale
  2. The West Wing
  3. American Gods
  4. The Good Fight
  5. Doctor Who
  6. Legion
  7. The End of the F***ing World
  8. Babylon Berlin
  9. Yes, Minister / Yes, Prime Minister
  10. Motherland

The eagle-eyed among you will notice a couple of shows that didn’t premiere in 2017, but that’s when I first watched them, so it counts. (The inverse applies to The End of the F***ing World and Babylon Berlin, both of which had their debut in the UK in 2017 rather than 2018 – hence being on that list rather than this one.)

Looking back, I still feel basically alright with all of these choices. Legion surprised me a little bit, actually, but I suppose I did enjoy it quite a bit at the time, especially while I was still watching a lot more superhero television. And, actually, I’m a little uncomfortable with the inclusion of Motherland, much as I did love it, because of Graham Linehan’s involvement with it.

Anyway. Here, then, is the list of my favourite television shows of 2018.

10). Derry Girls

At the time, I was going to write an article about authenticity, and about how Derry Girls has such a strong voice, and that’s why it was quite as funny as it was. I never did get around to that piece in the end (as long-term fans who can recite everything I’ve ever written surely know) but now… well, it’s true, obviously. But I wonder if perhaps that doesn’t overemphasis certain aspects of the show, over-simplifying its strengths and making it seem as though the jokes are only good because of the accent they’re delivered in.

No, Derry Girls was – and is – so good because of the strength of its ensemble, the precision of its structure, and often quite how willing it is to push a joke and keep going. Granted, you could probably argue that it’s first and last episodes were the most impressive and memorable, with the stretch in the middle never quite hitting those heights – but then, that last episode is home to one of the best TV moments of the year, after all.

(The accents do help, though.)

9). Save Me

save me lennie james suranne jones stephen graham sky atlantic jason flemyng

It’s not a show I necessarily expected to put in my top ten at the end of the year, actually, but when I came to compose this list, it was difficult not to include Save Me, I quickly realised. It’s the only straightforward crime drama on the list, and the only missing child programme, in a year when I watched (and wrote about) quite a few of them – just off the top of my head, Innocent, Kiri and Safe all spring to mind. Each of those shows had their strengths, but none of them were particularly special – I gradually lost interest in that sort of crime drama across the year, really.

Save Me stands apart because it managed to do what I didn’t think was entirely possible – it took that basic standard of the crime drama, the missing child premise, and executed it with such confidence and such skill that it made the whole thing feel new again. There was no deconstruction of the genre, no attempt to juxtapose it with something different, just a ruthlessly well-constructed drama, set apart only by its building intensity. I’m looking forward to the next series – I’ve got my doubts, admittedly, about Save Me’s potential as a long runner, but I was so impressed by Lennie James in this that I’ll be paying attention to whatever he does next.

Here’s what I wrote about Save Me at the time.

8). Flowers

flowers will sharpe olivia colman sofia di martino julian barratt daniel rigby channel 4 seeso mental health depression best tv 2018 top 10

I watched each of Flowers‘ two seasons this year, across the course of about a week. It’s difficult to capture exactly what’s so good about Flowers, I think – it’s a show that very much has to be seen to be understood, in a way I think quite unlike everything else on this list. “Olivia Colman is brilliant, Julian Barratt is brilliant, and Will Sharpe is brilliant” is true, of course, but not in a way that necessarily tells you a lot. “This is a brilliant crime drama” conveys a certain understanding of what a piece of television is and what it’s good at – it’s difficult to even explain what Flowers is exactly without being deeply reductive.

But it is brilliant, in its own idiosyncratic and distinctive way. Of the two seasons, I think the second was my favourite – after however many years of watching more and more television, and trying to watch and engage critically, I’ve become more and more attracted to the stuff that’s unlike anything else on television. Flowers series 2 is definitely that, a more confident elaboration on its predecessor, and an obvious choice for one of the best TV shows of the year.

Here’s what I wrote about Flowers at the time.

7). Superstore

superstore nbc america ferrara colton dunn ben feldman nichole bloom justin spitzer best tv 2018 top ten the office community season 4 5 cancelled renewed march return

I started watching Superstore years back, actually, when it first aired – NBC put the first three episodes on YouTube for three, which I thought was a really clever way to draw eyes to the show, but then there was no way to watch it here in the UK. It’s finally turned up on ITV 2, though, and I absolutely loved those first three episodes, so obviously I made sure to sit and watch it each day it was on.

There is a lot to be said about Superstore, I suspect, and how and why it’s so good – like America Ferrara and the jokes (its second series had a better Brexit gag than any British show across the past two years can lay claim to) and the chemistry between the cast and the tone it strikes each week and the way it takes corporate America to task in a way, I suspect, rather unlike a lot of other workplace comedies.

For me, though, what’s probably the defining memory I have of watching Superstore is coming home in an absolutely foul mood and all of that just falling away, because Superstore is just so good and so wholesome and so wonderful.

6). The Good Fight

the good fight christine baranski audra macdonald rose leslie cbs

Perhaps most notable, in this context at least, as the only show from the 2017 Top Ten to survive into the new year – indeed, and I hope I’m not jinxing it by saying it, I’d be very surprised if The Good Fight didn’t also make it onto the 2019 Top Ten. But I’m getting ahead of myself there.

The Good Fight is, in a joke I’ve tried to avoid making before, really, really good. There’s an elegance and a confidence to it, and it’s so much fun to watch. Christine Baranski is inimitable, Sarah Steele is a treasure, and Rose Leslie is so good I feel bad every time I remember she’s a Tory. (Zing!) I’m hoping 2019 is the year I finally get around to watching The Good Wife, but more than that, I’m really looking forward to Series 3.

Because it really, really is just that captivating.

Here’s what I wrote about The Good Fight at the time.

5). Succession

succession hbo brian cox jeremy strong jesse armstrong adam mckay peep show will ferrell julie gardner murdoch best tv 2018 top ten

I’d like to say I was an early adopter for Succession, appreciating it from the start, unlike the droves of people who abandoned it and then returned to it later. Of course, it didn’t air in the UK until months after that narrative had already formed in America, so I was going into the show expecting to dislike it at least a little initially. So, technically, I can’t quite say I was there for the show from the start.

I’m pretty sure I would’ve been, though, because I loved that first episode, and Succession had me in the palm of its hand till the end. And what an ending it was! Oh man. I sort of wish it had aired in the UK at the same time as it did in America, because I would’ve loved the chance to write about the whole series at the same time when everyone was still, you know, actually talking about (one of the more frustrating things about being a critic based in the UK is how totally America still drives the pace of the cultural conversation) because the way that series concluded was… well, there’s a few reasons why this show made it to the Top Ten, but that ending is the reason why Succession is as high up on this list as it is.

Here’s what I wrote about Succession (well, nominally about Succession, at least) at the time.

4). Wanderlust

wanderlust bbc netflix toni collette nick payne zawe ashton steven mackintosh sophie okonedo sex marriage monogamy best tv 2018 top ten hd

Wanderlust started on BBC One in the same week as Press, and I watched them both on the same day. I watched Wanderlust first, because I was expecting to like Press more – the general premise of Press being far more my ballpark than Wanderlust’s, my familiarity with Mike Bartlett and how much I’d enjoyed Trauma, and there were a few actors I liked in Press as well. Plus, Wanderlust seemed to be in the same vein as a lot of recent BBC family dramas (dramas about family, that is, I would hate to have watched Wanderlust with my family) that never quite gelled for me. In the end, I suspect I probably would’ve liked Press quite a lot more than I eventually did if it hadn’t been airing alongside Wanderlust, because the comparison was not at all flattering.

Part of why I watched Wanderlust was the expectation that it’d probably be unlike most of what I usually watched – an expectation that was met and surpassed, because Wanderlust blew me away. It was touching and charming and Toni Collette gave one of the best performances of the year (I know there’s some talk of awards nominations for Hereditary, but she really should win something for Wanderlust – several somethings, really). Not only that, Wanderlust probably also boasts one of the single best episodes of television of the year; I’m still thinking about the fifth episode and its central conceit, even now, months later.

3). The Assassination of Gianni Versace

american crime story the assassination of gianni versace andrew cunanan darren criss ryan murphy tom rob smith cody fern review emmys

I think maybe people didn’t like this one that much? They’re all wrong, of course, but I was surprised to note that, because the strengths of this seem so self-evident to me. Darren Criss was brilliant, the script by Tom Rob Smith was brilliant, Cody Fern was brilliant in a supporting performance that really wasn’t celebrated enough. It was intense, and it was difficult to watch, and to be honest I doubt I’ll ever sit and watch it again – but by the same measure, I’m so glad I did, because it was such a standout series.

Genuinely, I think if you’re someone who likes television (and indeed movies and visual media and so on) and you went through 2018 without watching The Assassination of Gianni Versace, your experience of television this year was incomplete. That’s a big, big omission, and it’s worth going back to watch it as soon as you’re able – you won’t regret it.

Here’s what I wrote about The Assassination of Gianni Versace at the time; I put this piece in my portfolio as well, if you’d like to check that out, but I should probably get around to updating it sooner rather than later.

2). A Very English Scandal

a very english scandal hugh grant jeremy thorpe ben whishaw norman scott russell t davies stephen frears review both victims bbc one amazon

As is often the way with a Russell T Davies programme, this was obviously one of the best of the year pretty much as soon as the first episode finished airing. (I don’t wholly remember what was on at the same time as Cucumber, but I’m fairly certain it would’ve been one of the best of that year, too.) But, you know, don’t just take my word for it if you don’t want to – though I can’t think why you wouldn’t – it’s been appearing on plenty of year in review best lists for a while.

Rightfully so, because this is brilliant. It’s fun and anarchic and clever and I can keep listing adjectives, but honestly, it wouldn’t do it justice. I’m fairly sure it’s still on iPlayer – go, search it out. Watching these is a much better way to spend the next three hours than whatever you’ve already got planned. For even more fun, read Davies’ script at the same time as you watch the show; I did that with the third episode, and that really highlighted the strengths of the piece in a new way.

Here’s what I wrote about A Very English Scandal at the time, which I think is quite plausibly one of the best things I’ve ever written, and certainly one of the best of this year.

1). Patrick Melrose

patrick melrose benedict cumberbatch edward st aubyn sky atlantic showtime edward berger david nicholls best tv 2018 top ten

I’m still annoyed I didn’t find the time to write about this as it aired. I wasn’t expecting a lot from it, actually; the trailers in the week leading up to it gave the impression that Cumberbatch would be doing a sort of quasi-Sherlock caricature, which didn’t exactly inspire much confidence in the show.

When I watched it, though, I was blown away. It’s surely the best performance of Cumberbatch’s career – faintly reminiscent of Sherlock in a few clear ways, yes, but what Cumberbatch does with the material is far more complex than any comparison might suggest. “Benedict Cumberbatch’s best work” is a high selling point on its own, but that this performance was found in such a stylishly directed character study – a piece about love and loss and addiction and trauma, and coming to terms with them all as much as is possible – as Patrick Melrose is genuinely quite something.

If you’ve not seen it, seek it out; it’ll become very clear very quickly, I think, why I thought Patrick Melrose was the best TV show of 2018.

Honourable Mentions, Runners Up, and Notable Omissions

There are a few different programmes that are worthy of note, even though they didn’t quite make the top ten.

  • Chief amongst them are Sharp Objects and Black Earth Rising, both of which I loved; the only reason they didn’t make it onto the list, frankly, is the fact that I still haven’t actually had a chance to finish them.
  • (I preferred Black Earth Rising to Sharp Objects generally; Amy Adams would definitely be among the top ten performances of the year if I was making a list like that.)
  • I should probably also include Killing Eve here; I wasn’t quite as enamoured by it as everyone else was, but it was still obviously a highlight of the year. Oh, and I was also rather more enamoured by Westworld than everyone else was.
  • On the comedy front, I’d mention Stath Lets Flats, a very odd little show on Channel 4 that I enjoyed despite (and because of) how very odd it was, and Everything Sucks, which was so wonderfully charming. I was really disappointed when it was cancelled. Also, thinking about it, Brooklyn 99, which I’ve only really gotten into properly over the past few months; I was very pleased when it was un-cancelled.
  • And watching Riverdale is consistently one of my favourite things to do each week, because it’s just so mad, and so much fun because of it. No, I will not be taking any comments on how much I love Riverdale, this is my final word on the matter, thank you.

Disappointments

What disappointments were there in 2019? Well, I can think of a couple in my personal life, but let’s sidestep those and stick to the stuff that matters. And the stuff that we’ve been talking about for the past thousand words.

  • I think if I were inclined to be deliberately inflammatory, I might include Killing Eve here – not because it was bad, because it obviously wasn’t, but after Fleabag (one of the best television shows ever, frankly) and quite how rave the reviews were in America, I was expecting a little more. But, you know, that’s just being difficult, and unnecessarily so, frankly. Killing Eve was great.
  • No, in terms of disappointments there’s a couple of obvious contenders. Difficult not to talk about the two shows that fell out of the rankings from last year – The Handmaid’s Tale and Doctor Who, both of which were, unfortunately, vast steps down from their prior offerings. (I’ve not had a chance to catch up on Legion series 2 yet.) I wrote a little about The Handmaid’s Tale at the time, and I never really shut up about Doctor Who.
  • There’s also Jessica Jones, another programme that was a big step down from its stellar first season – indeed, the first series of Jessica Jones is one of the best pieces of ‘superhero’ media there is, and the second is… really not. I suspect the third season is going to be the last. I am not sure I’ll even watch it.
  • And, of course, there’s Who is America, the Sacha Baron-Cohen thing, which was just a load of nonsense really.

What I’m looking forward to in 2019

Let’s not end on a negative note, though! Positivity is a much better way to try and end the year. So, here’s a couple of shows that I’m looking forward to in 2019; I will, almost inevitably, forget something. Probably the one I’m looking forward to most, actually.

  • First and foremost, each of the various returning shows from this list – and my 2017 list, come to that. Quite a few of them will be back – The Good Fight, Derry Girls, I think Save Me, and hopefully Superstore series 4 will turn up on UK television sooner rather than later. From 2017’s list, the main one jumping out at me is American Gods; given all the nonsense that’s gone on behind the scenes, I’m more than a little worried about this series, but part of me is still really looking forward to it, however cautiously.
  • New shows! Gentleman Jack springs to mind first, because – since meeting her – I look forward to anything with Sophie Rundle in it. Otherwise, there’s MotherFatherSon, which I’m interested in because it’s written by Tom Rob Smith, who was also behind The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Plenty of others too, I’m sure.
  • I also, looking back through this list, probably need to try and branch out a bit more. It’s a very white list (and, actually, a pretty male one too) – not getting around to Atlanta this year and not finishing Black Earth Rising definitely didn’t help, but equally, that’s still only two shows. So, yes, something to try and pay a little more attention to over 2019.

Of course, there’s also plenty of stuff from this year I still want to catch up on, like The Long Song or Little Drummer Girl or This Country or Homecoming or Maniac or The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina or… oh, man, there is just so much TV, isn’t there? So much.

Have a wonderful 2019, everyone.

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